The captain is a lean, healthy man in his mid-40s with a slightly sunburnt face. His baseball cap, wraparound sunglasses and polo shirt make him look more like a mid-board golfer on the PGA tour than the captain of a Sheepshead Bay fishing boat.
He makes his rounds about the boat, greeting everyone on board, Groupon or not, introducing himself and making sure we all know how to cast the rod without tangling the line. He asks if I know what I’m doing and I balk. “More or less.” Then I make it clear it’s “less” and he does a quick demo. The captain shows me how to tie up the sinker to the gunwale while the boat is moving so the hook is bouncing against the outside rim without flying into someone’s eye. It’s a neat trick and I tell him so.
Besides the captain the crew consists of a haggard black man, a friendly paisano giant, and a little guy who seems assured of his ability to spot flukes just from the strain on someone’s rod. The black man welcomed us aboard when we first got on, holding our hands to make sure we landlubbers didn’t hurt ourselves from the get-go. Throughout the trip, he walks around with a fancy DSLR snapping shots of giddy fishermen, including a little kid going nuts over a huge flounder, then squealing in terror when a baby sand shark is dumped on the bench next to him to his parents’ amusement.
The short-haired Italian stallion wears a tee-shirt with the sleeves cut off. It reads something like, “Eat, Sleep, Fish, Repeat.” He’s a friendly fellow and fixes our tangles time and time again without losing his cool. This is the hazard of booking a full fishing charter.
I threw in $2 each into the ship’s pool for my dad and me. Our first stop is pretty fruitless but the next couple of spots yield flounders and sea bass for some. Dad looks over at the guy next to us, who tied a dirty bandana around the gunwale to clip his pliers onto and keep them handy — clearly not his first rodeo. He makes a few lighthearted sarcastic remarks alluding to the guy’s apparent expertise. He also insists the guy is Jewish, like us, while I explain that the tattoo of a cross on his calf, wrapped in a flag that says “Greece,” indicates otherwise. Dad waves this off as insufficient evidence…
It’s nearly noon and we’re about to head back toward Sheepshead Bay. Most people have caught a fish or two, some even a keeper. We’re still empty-handed. Dad has now repeated his joke about pulling his $2 from the pool to others, including our Jewish neighbor with the Greek cross on his leg. After several tangles and line crosses, I’m resigned to an uneventful finale and a quiet trip home. Suddenly, Dad manages to pull a baby sea bass out of the ocean. The captain doesn’t even bother to check his length with the long metal rulers provided. The fish is puny.
Then, minutes later, I get lucky and pull out a good-sized flounder just as the motor starts, signaling “Rods up!” and a sail set for home. The captain walks over, this time dressed more casually. He slaps the fish against the ruler. It shows about 16, 16.5 inches. Nope, it needs to be 18. The flounder finds itself flung back into its home even more rudely and abruptly than it was yanked from it. My dad is comically enraged by this malfeasance, but our more experienced neighbor explains there’s a $500 fine attached to keeping such fish, and it won’t be paid by my dad.
Our $4 is going home with someone else, along with another $120 and a fish of gargantuan proportions–one of the massive flounders, I guess. We’re going home with a cooler full of scrunched foil wrappers from the chicken cutlets and cheese sandwiches we ate earlier. Luckily, the boat has beer on it. “Two Sam Adams, please.” That’ll do, Captain. That’ll do.